Membership First to Background: Drop Dead!

It seems that the prickly nature of Membership First activists is turning into an attack machine of the sort usually only witnessed on the national political scene. While Membership First claims that it stands for the interests of all SAG members, including background, let a single background member voice an independent viewpoint and see what happens.

A few days ago over on Actors Access, a background actor named George had the temerity to suggest that something I had once written here about the Guild might make some sense.  
A longstanding MF member and alternate SAG National Board member Terence Beasor responded with the following heavy handed reaction:
And I predicted after hearing you speak at the first W&W meeting, you would give me the sharpest and most painful headache I ever had. I was right. Stop already!

Not one of your quasi intelligent posts is going to move you out of Background and into principle. If that happens it would be criminal as there are so many more deserving BG than you.

This suggests to me that SAG’s MF party may, in fact, hold a view of background that is different than what they publicly profess – or was it just the fact that George had mentioned my name?  
In any case, I posted the following reply entitled:

“Fear spread doubt and doubt spreads defensive behavior”
For the record there was nothing particularly brilliant about my “prediction” about the rancor and distrust that would spread in SAG. That kind of concern is well known among experienced union activists.

It is interesting that Anne-Marie Johnson, in her interview with Jonathan Handel, now argues that what SAG needs is a membership education effort to build support for a possible strike.

That was what I said should have been the top priority of the Guild in July 2006. I said it because I argued that however “militant” or “tough” MF wanted to be there was no basis for that tough approach if the overwhelming majority of the membership is not supportive. And the only reason they would be supportive is if they understood and agreed with your argument about why the tough approach might be necessary.

That argument has to be, first and foremost, about why the industry functions the way it does and what can be done by a collective labor body like the Guild to confront it.

And I pointed out that the industry – through Nick Counter and others – had already begun their own education campaign aimed at dividing the SAG membership.

Instead of undertaking that analysis and education effort, MF decided to attack – not the employers – but other actors!

Why would they do that?

I believe it is because fundamentally they did not believe that SAG could make a serious dent in DVD revenue. In other words they did not believe in the collective power of the membership to change the most unfair aspects of revenue sharing in the industry.

While new media is, indeed, the wave of the future, I will venture now another “prediction”: even if SAG dropped all of its demand for any union coverage of new media and even if no SAG member received a dime of residuals from new media for a decade, they will still lose more money because of the unfair DVD revenue sharing model.

Yet, SAG has dropped DVDs as a serious demand, as did the WGA, AFTRA and the DGA (granted it may not be as important to the other guilds).

Why? No clear understanding about how to mobilize the membership and the other resources of the Guild to generate enough leverage to change the formula.

How then could MF cover its retreat? Shout to the high heavens about sub 15K per minute new media. Of course, it is preferable to have union coverage of all new media. Whether you can get it or not is another thing altogether.

Thus, fear about the power of the Guild, leads to doubt about strategy and that leads back to the kind of defensive behavior evidenced by Mr. Beasor. MF screams to the high heavens that they are “all for one and one for all” when it comes to affected or qualified voting, but let a single BG member come on this board and sincerely raise a reasonable argument about what? The need for an education campaign – an education campaign that even AMJ now argues is the crux of MF strategy – and he is shot down by an MF veteran.

This in a nutshell has been the problem for MF and unfortunately for SAG for a few years now – ironically, the group that advocates for “membership first” FEARS the actual membership!

After all, keep in mind what an education campaign – to be successful – would require: open engagement in discussion and argument with the membership and the leaders of the union. Those leaders must engage for many hours with thousands of members over a period of many months. They must listen as well as lecture. If it is not an open and engaged process it will not work. You not only need an argument, you need a process, a democratic and transparent process.

Only then can an education campaign generate an engaged, supportive membership that will back a leadership at the bargaining table and if necessary in a job action.

But MF does not have an argument, they do not have the confidence that they can really confront the industry, so they use the minimal control they have now over the internal bureaucracy of the union to cajole and exclude and, finally, attack other actors.

If MF wins the election and AMJ is serious about an education campaign then these are the issues MF will have to confront one way or another. If they lose that responsiblity will fall to the new leadership.